We first came across Bačka Gourmet Foods at the Carrara Markets, while checking out the Farmers Market. Venturing inside, it was hard not to miss their stall:
“…then we struck gold: Bačka Gourmet Foods, a stall stacked full of European smallgoods, all gluten-free, preservative and additive free, the smoky aromas drifting out into the market. I should have just followed the line of Eastern Europeans, who were all going to the same place – Bačka’s!”
Wanting to find out more about the smoking and curing business, we trekked up to Beenleigh to talk to Richard Krstin, the owner.
“I grew up with this food in Melbourne,” Richard says.
“Yes,” I comment, “This feels like Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Markets!”
“My mother had the first olive stall in those markets thirty years ago, and my father worked at Don Smallgoods. I’m of Yugoslav heritage, but I was born in Melbourne, surrounded by this food. We make all our products here from the old recipes, such as paté only using fresh chicken liver; White Hungarian sausage from beef, pork, natural brown sugar and Bundy rum (the now not-so-secret ingredient), just like it’s always been made.”
We’re standing in the shop, surrounded by an Eastern European gourmand’s delight: traditional Liverwurst, Salami, speck, jars of Marco Polo vegetables and relishes, homemade sauerkraut, Thomy mayo, salty cheeses and Rose hip jam – food whose origin stretches from Yugoslavia to Russia. Above us, racks of sausages hang curing from the rafters – red, white and brindle, preparing for the Christmas onslaught.
“Try a piece of this!” The young attendant hands me a thin shaving of prosciutto, its delicate flavours enticing me to buy some, which of course I do.
We move through to the back of the tiny shop, past more racks of ageing salami, 100kg per rack; hams in various stages of production, being cured for Christmas; racks of ribs hanging somberly in shadow, installation art reminders of lives at pasture. A vegetarian’s nightmare!
I’m introduced to Vlatko, the burly smokehouse master, as we pass. He’s as Croatian as they come, and could have stepped straight out of a James Bond movie set in Bačka itself; intimidating except for the smile, which makes me bold…
“Behind every good food business is a great chef!” I whisper to him as we go past. He smiles knowingly.
Richard pulls a door aside and smoke flows out of the darkness to greet us.
“We use all natural wood smoking in this smokehouse with no artificial heat treatment,” Richard tells me. Yes, I believe him. My meat could be boiling really soon if we move any further inside that door!
It’s fantastic to see artisan sausages and hams made in the traditional way without additives and preservatives, but not without caution. While there’s a proven market for handmade goods, every precaution must be taken to ensure freshness and purity of product.
“Most of my time now is spent on quality control,” Richard tells me. “It’s a high risk industry, so not many people have ventured into it.”
Bačka has established a loyal clientele who buy their products at markets on the Gold Coast (Carrara, Marina Mirage and Sharks) and in Brisbane (Chandler, Ascot, Rocklea, Nundah etc.).
More recently, Backa’s expanded to the Gold Coast with a large warehouse at 18/231 Brisbane Road, Labrador. Check their Facebook page for opening times and other stockists.
18/231 Brisbane Rd, Biggera Waters Ph: 07 5537 1651